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DUMB AND DUMBA

25-01-2007

Tony Blair seems obsessesd with his "legacy". Well never mind his achievments in the Iraq war or reducing social mobility, Laurence Inman suggests a way the soon to be departing PM could really leave his mark on Britain.

I have written to Tony Blair suggesting that as his final legacy he should push through parliament a Bill which I have drafted and which will become the Dangerous Use of Metaphor by Broadcasters Act (DUMBA)

He wrote back and said he thought my idea was brilliant and asked me to tell him when would be a good time for him to come round and discuss it further over a nice cup of tea…..sorry about that; writers don't get out much.

Anyway, DUMBA would outlaw any use of metaphor or other figure of speech which would cause, or tend to cause, distress to those concerned that language should be used accurately to express thoughts and feelings and not just be a stream of dull sounds with the occasional approximation of a word thrown in.

I researched this over many years and listened to thousands of hours of radio and TV broadcasts from all over the world. (As it turned out, though, all I had to do was watch the early evening news last week.)

Let me give you four examples of what I would outlaw.

Sneak preview. Have you noticed this ? Whenever a new show is mentioned, or a new building is opened, we can't have just a preview, it has to be a sneak preview, as if we were a gang of naughty giggling eight-year-olds pulling the curtains apart when we've been told by the grown-ups not to. Penalty: 3 months imprisonment.

Up for grabs. Again, we've been turned into infants. They announce a competition. (Central News is good for this one.) All you have to do is answer this question: Birmingham is in a) England, b) China, c) The Moon. Phone now, there are some great prizes up for grabs. No! The prizes are available, or they can be won, or you could be lucky! Up for grabs turns us into mad, selfish, grasping idiots. Penalty: 2 years.

Begging the question. What people really mean is posing the question, or prompting or raising the question. It doesn't make any sense in this context to say begging the question, but it kind of sounds right and for most people that's close enough.

Begging the question is actually a rather arcane figure referring to setting up a circular argument in propositional logic. It means to assume the conclusion of an argument as part of the argument for it. Penalty: Life, or do a three-year Philosophy course, whichever you think you can stand better.

Revenge is a dish best served cold. No! Revenge is a dish best eaten cold! This saying probably originated in Italy (think Al Pacino) where they have meals which, when cold, don't turn into a congealed mess of inedible grease. In fact, they will often taste better.

What people are doing is confusing this with serving their turn. So, let's do something which people are very loth to do these days: think for a few seconds before we speak. If you cook a meal, let it go cold, then serve it to someone against whom you have a grudge, they won't eat it! Because it's cold! They'll just think: Old so-and-so's at it again. Well the joke's on him. All that trouble, and we didn't eat it!

But, if you take care and trouble to cook a meal, then wait, defer your gratification while it cools, take a little more time, savour the anticipation, then slowly eat….you see ? You are the one in control. You are not flailing around in the heat of passion. This little story mirrors the pleasure of revenge; it does not describe it. Penalty; Dismemberment (probably in public.)

And one more thing while we're at it; if you experience more than one emotion in a 24 hour period (say, mild disappointment, followed by mild amusement,) this is not a roller-coaster of emotions.

These are not the ramblings of an old pedant. Language is important. If we talk in clichés, without the need of thought, then in the end we may as well not think at all. And the only people this will benefit will be those who want to rob us of our money, our liberty and our dignity.

Our cup overfloweth with metaphorical cliches. Which are the ones that get your goat? Leave a comment on our messageboard.

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